With Davante Adams, the Green Bay Packers have one of the NFL’s premier receivers. The supporting cast isn’t great and lacks a pure slot threat, but Allen Lazard brings size and physicality, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a premier deep threat and Devin Funchess is back after being a COVID opt-out. While Adams presumably will be given a contract extension, Valdes-Scantling, Funchess and Equanimeous St. Brown will be unrestricted free agents at this time next year. That means Green Bay, at least, needs to add a receiver or two to get ready for what could be an offseason of change in 2022. Note: In the 16 drafts conducted by Ted Thompson and Brian Gutekunst, Randall Cobb was the shortest receiver selected at 5-foot-10 1/4. Thus, any receiver shorter than 5-foot-10 (no rounding) will not be considered in our series.
Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman is our No. 4-ranked receiver.
There are hot recruits. And then there’s Rashod Bateman, who committed to Minnesota without ever setting foot in one of the coldest states in America.
Heading into his senior season at Tift County (Ga.) High School, Bateman had no scholarship offers from Power 5 football schools. He loved football but he was getting more recruiting interest in basketball. That summer, he attended a football camp in Atlanta and chatted with Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck.
“If you offer me,” Bateman told Fleck, “I’m going to commit.”
Bateman then went through the drills of the day, finishing with a 40-yard dash. After his run, he saw Fleck walk over.
“Remember what you told me?” Fleck asked Bateman.
The receiver smiled. He got his first offer from a major school.
It would be the first of many as Bateman went from so-so to star in what seemed like the blink of an eye. As a high school senior, the native of Tifton, Ga., caught 83 passes for 1,539 yards and 21 touchdowns. The SEC powers took note of the all-state performance, but Bateman stuck with the Golden Gophers.
“You know he was a gradual player — I don’t know if that makes sense — but when he was really young in middle school, you knew he had some ability, but he just kind of got better and better every year,” Anders told the Star Tribune. “He didn’t put up the numbers as a junior like he did as a senior. Probably toward the end of his senior year he was leading the state of Georgia in receiving. I think that’s when he really kind of took off.”
Bateman wouldn’t even listen, even though flipping to an SEC program would keep him closer to home. Not even the powerful, home-state Georgia Bulldogs, coached by Kirby Smart, could sway him.
“It felt more like I was their backup plan,” Bateman said. “Kirby Smart is from Down South so I don’t know how he didn’t know who I was. I was literally in their backyard. So, I decided to make another place my backyard.”
In 2018, Bateman set freshman records for the Gophers with 51 receptions for 704 yards. He took the next step in 2019. Packing on 30 pounds by swapping fried foods for greens and protein shakes, he burst onto the national scene.
“Everybody talks about Tyler (Johnson), but we’re talking about — Rashod Bateman set every Minnesota freshman record there was, and now he’s 200 pounds,” Fleck said before the 2019 season. “And you’re talking about maybe one of the best and most prolific wide receivers in the country [in Johnson, who’s] going to be just like Corey Davis was. They have very similar skill sets.”
Bateman opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID. When the Big Ten changed course and decided to play, Bateman joined the team. However, when a midseason game against Wisconsin was canceled due to a COVID outbreak, Bateman opted out again. He played in five games and caught 36 passes for 472 yards and two scores.
While the Golden Gophers never challenged for a championship, Bateman had no regrets about sticking his his decision.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I haven’t been homesick. I haven’t gotten homesick once,” Bateman told the Star Tribune. “I fell in love with Minnesota. I’ve thought about it, I think I’m going to retire and live on Lake Minnetonka.”
Measureables: 6-foot-1, 210 pounds (unofficial.). Pro day: April 1.
Stats and accolades: In two full seasons and his COVID-abbreviated final campaign, Bateman caught 147 passes for 2,395 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had a monster sophomore campaign with 60 grabs for 1,219 yards (20.3 average) and 11 scores to earn first-team all-conference and third-team All-American honors. In five games in 2020, the catch number was strong (36) but he wasn’t nearly as productive in terms of big plays (13.1 average, two touchdowns). He caught at least one pass in all 31 games with 10 100-yard performances. Pro Football Focus credited him with 36 broken tackles on 147 receptions (good) but 19 career drops (not-so-good).
NFL Draft Bible says: Bateman has a physicality to his game of a man even larger. He is able to win consistently at the catch point, feasting on smaller defensive backs. In terms of athleticism, Bateman has some juice to his game. He is able to stack and win vertically at a good rate for his play style. Bateman is also a sudden athlete who shows some nice nuance as a route runner. There is a ton to love about his game, without much evidence in terms of weaknesses. He routinely plucks the ball out of the air, showing some soft hands.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft. The series is starting with the top five at each position, then will add additional players as the draft approaches, with a focus on positions of need.